Campfires, Caves and Watering holes

I have recently read an interesting article, in Learning & Leading with Technology, June/July 2013, titled “Australia’s Campfires, Caves, and Watering holes”, by Ann W. Davis and Kim Kappler-Hewitt.  They recognise that our students want to engage, socialize, communicate and collaborate in ways that are meaningful to them.  It follows that in our libraries and classrooms we need to be aware of the increasingly digital nature of our world, the ways in which our students are engaging with it and work to create learning spaces that reflect the world in which these students live.  They have drawn from the work of David Thornburg in transforming learning spaces.  This involved constructing spaces to support personalized and differentiated instruction.  There are three archetypal learning spaces:

  • The Campfire
  • The Cave
  • The Watering hole

The campfire, is a space where people gather to learn from an expert.  It can be used for teacher to student and more importantly for peer to peer instruction.

Imagine gathering around the campfire, why do we enjoy this activity?  We gather to listen to our stories and learn from our elders.  Through this shared experience we learn and can go on to share this with other people face to face or, today, through technology and social media.

The watering hole is a space for shared culture.  It is an informal area, where students can share in collaborative learning experiences.

Gathering at the waterhole was a relaxed social time where people gathered to exchange news while they collected the water, washed the clothes or went for a swim.  Children of my era would do this not just down the creek but, as stated by Ann Davis, on the walk home after school or phone calls to school mates.  Today the essence or purpose of these interactions has not changed, but the mode of operation has.  Now students communicate online through social media.  The watering hole has just changed position.

The cave is a private space, where students can find that much needed alone time useful for reflection on their learning or just to recharge. (a necessary space for those students with Aspergers).

The cave was one of my favourite places as a young student and I made sure I knew where the caves were in the Library.  They were, and still are, the inviting and essential places necessary for students to reflect on the meaning of their studies.  They enable students the time and space to make meaning of their learning and to set new goals for further learning.  This place has a dual purpose, because it allows students to not only reflect on their learning, but to momentarily have a break from the demands of social engagement (which for children with Aspergers is extremely hard and draining work), enabling the child to return recharged, which leads to them to being able to engage, socialise and collaborate more effectively with their peers and teachers.

It can be challenging for students to reflect by themselves but some technology tools can inspire these students to do so.  Student blogs can become a forum for students to record their personal reflections where their opinions are valued and they are encouraged to engage with the personal reflection process.

Since reading this article I have endeavoured to create some of these zones in my Library.  I have found that the cave zones are always occupied.  Students love them both during lessons for reflection and for recharge/relaxation time during breaks.

I have incorporated campfire spaces in two areas of the library, which the teachers and students have commented positively on.  They are both being regularly utilized for learning and instruction experiences.  One of the campfire spaces is easily converted into a watering hole and is proving to be very useful for whole class collaborative sessions.  During Lunch on Thursday last week, a group of girls used this watering hole to practice a play they were doing for Media Arts. It was very interesting to stand in the background and watch as most of the other children visiting the library that day asked these girls if they could sit and watch the play!  So these students got to practice in front of an impromptu audience (an amazing proof of the attraction of the watering hole).

I found the way in which they incorporated this Australian terminology, evoked a wonderful mental image and the sense of the spaces’ purpose was immediately engaging.  I will continue to use these ideas to shape the leaning spaces within my library.


9 thoughts on “Campfires, Caves and Watering holes

  1. I love the imagery evoked by using these terms as spaces for design in the library. It is so interesting to think about how students use spaces. I have experimented a bit with this in my small library with no budget and have found it surprising how quickly students adapt to rearranged spaces and how instinctively they use the space for roughly the purpose I intended them to. I set up a couple of mats and some cushions in the most secluded corner of the library and the first lunchtime after that there are kids hiding in there reading. I set up a few soft stools in a circle and next thing I know students are sitting on the stools and one of them is playing music on his guitar, for all the world as if they were sitting around a campfire. Thanks for sharing your reflections and experiences. I would love to see some photos of some spaces you’ve created in your library.


    • Thanks for your comments Alison, I will attempt to post some photos of my Library spaces on Google+. I have some, but would like to get some better ones next week. Some of the spaces are quite versatile with teachers able to move furniture around to meet the needs of the class/instruction.


  2. After reading your post Alison, I photographed my classroom, both from inside and out, as I began the process of reflecting on this space for learning. When I look at this newly refurbished, architecturally designed room, I am reminded of the advice, college graduate, Dustin Hoffman receives: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … Plastics.” (The Graduate, 1967). The word had emerged as a complex metaphor in western culture, signaling the hazards of materialism, superficiality and a sterile technological future. (Meikle, 1997). Just as plastics have had an unprecedented social and cultural impact, my newly refurbished classroom shapes the students who enter this learning space.

    I have ended up with a ‘Plastic’ classroom.  Despite the renovations, I am not always able to be innovative.   Whilst it is a large rectangular, air conditioned space with moveable desks, integrated data and great wall space, the desks are heavy to move and with 30 desks to arrange, it is challenging to get the configuration right.

    The classroom is one of the central elements supporting student learning. This learning is influenced by how classrooms are designed with academic architecture offering its own ‘hidden curriculum’ (Orr 1993).  Many educators assert that the teaching-learning relationship should be active and learner-centred, characterised by an array of interactive materials and activities that move students from a passive role to an active learning orientation (McWilliam E. L. 2005).

    Consideration of my pedagogical approach, has pushed me into reshaping my classroom.  I am conscious of the types of learning that are implicit in the activities I create and how these best meet the learning needs of students. Essentially I want to create a space where the class can come together and discuss, present and listen (campfire) as well as spaces for group work (watering hole) and individual work (caves). (Collis, 2010, p.10). Ultimately, I believe that the physical learning environment must be flexible to ensure it meets the specific learning needs of the 21st century learner. I would like to be able to move the furniture into the campfire position for ‘story-time’, into groups for ‘watering hole’ chats or find their own personal ‘cave’ for reflection and internalisation of knowledge. I’d like a space that is innovative, creative and collaborative; not one marred by materialism, superficiality and sterility.

    Collis, S. (2010). ‘Classroom for the 21st Century’ in Australian Teacher Magazine: ICT in Education Guide.,pg 10-12.

    Meikle, J. (1997).  American Plastic: A Cultural History. New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press.

    McWilliam E. L. (2005). Unlearning pedagogy. Journal of Learning Design, 1(1), 1–11.


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